At the end of a truly rewarding week, late on Easter Sunday afternoon, I was sitting at home with our wonderful Holy Week preacher, Stuart Hoke, and we both found ourselves checking our Facebook pages. Countless Friends were offering Easter greetings, or posting pictures of churches decorated with impressive Paschal Candles and endless lilies. Perhaps it was the fact that we had just ‘kicked back’ after a long week but Stuart remarked to me, with a degree of frustration, that “everything seems so pious…can’t they just say, ‘He’s back!’?
Religion and faith sometimes make uncomfortable bedfellows. ‘Religion’ can be described as humanity’s attempts to connect with, or reach, the divine. Easter, at its heart, reminds us that there is very little we can do to achieve that connection ourselves – instead it is God who reaches out to us. One theologian, paraphrasing St Paul, says that “Christ is the end of religion.” What he means is that all the effort of us trying to reach God is unnecessary: God has completed the work of reaching out to us in Jesus. Faith at its most basic is simply to trust that this is so.
What cannot be denied is that, often, our expressions of the truth of God reaching out to us, of God offering us a completely fresh start in Jesus, often look very religious. We don’t mean to, but there is always the risk that all our devotion, our church liturgies and services, our little rituals and funny ways of doing things, all became an end in themselves, rather than helpful (or perhaps, unhelpful) aids to discovering the God who is already ‘back’ with us in Jesus. We should always remember that, ‘He’s back!’ is all we need: if the rituals, liturgies and the rest help us, all well and good; but if they don’t, they’re not necessary for us to discover the risen Christ. We can discover the truth of the resurrection in our offices, homes, pubs, friendships; we can meet the risen Christ on the bus, on Battersea High Street, in the supermarket, at a hospital…even in church!
“He’s back.” is perhaps also what one or two of you have been saying about me! It’s very good to be back in Battersea after a few months. It’s great to see the church in good shape, to see new faces as well as old, and to discover a church in good heart (it’s good to be reminded as well that this can be true when the Vicar is not there – it’s God’s church and your church before it is mine). St Mary’s is such a special place.
In the next edition of the newsletter, I’ll try and share some of my experience of the sabbatical. But feel free to ask me in the meantime about how the time out has helped me to grow and the new perspectives it’s given me.
Wishing you all a very happy Eastertide.